Don’t Use Periods in Your Phone Number

Please please please understand that your phone number does not look like this:

415.555.1212

The use of periods in people’s phone number started during the Dot Com boom of 1999. People wanted their phone numbers to look more “internety”. By replacing the parenthesis and dashes with periods, your phone number resembles an IP address. But it isn’t.

It was a cute fad. But now more than ten years later, when you use dots in your phone number, you demonstrate that you do not know the difference between a phone number and IP address. It’s like writing the word “interweb” on your business card. It makes you look dumb.

The accepted ways of writing a phone number are:

(415) 555-1212  or 415-555-1212.

I prefer the latter because it uses fewer characters and the idea of an area code, the thing specified inside the parenthesis, isn’t important for many areas any more. In many urban areas there are overlapping area codes so you must dial all 10 digits. Simply put, a phone number used to be 7 digits long but now it is 10 digits long. But don’t be distracted by this last point. Just know: don’t use periods in your phone number. It makes you look like a Luddite.

23 Comments

  1. I was gonna say I thought it was a European thing but it looks like they mostly use spaces in their phone numbers

  2. I don’t concur. I.like.periods.cuz.I.am.a.girl.

  3. lee says:

    I should note that this discussion only really pertains to U.S. phone numbers. The rest of the world has different expectations as far as writing phone numbers are concerned.

  4. Jen says:

    Oh, dear. I use periods from time to time for phone numbers, the time, and the date, only because it’s at the bottom of the keypad and it’s easier for me to hit the period key with my right hand than reach up above to the right or in the center for the dash or slash.

    I ARE NOT DUM! :D

    [posted at 4.46pm 10.26.11]

    xo

  5. lee says:

    Noooo, not the colon! And the slash?! Don’t replace these beloved punctuation marks with the lowly dot! All will be lost!

  6. Foxfur says:

    Dots are also mathematical notation for multiplication. Do the calculation for your phone number and just give em the sum.
    Call me at: 2,510,451,874

  7. ray says:

    An argument could be made that it looks a little graphically cleaner maybe. Really, is mixing up phone numbers and ip addresses an actual issue that one encounters? Have you looked at somebody’s business card and seen a phone number in that format and typed it into a browser as an ip address cause it had periods? :)

  8. lee says:

    Argue all you want, I think they don’t look right.

    >Have you looked at somebody’s business card and seen a phone number in
    >that format and typed it into a browser as an ip address cause it had periods?

    When I see it, I think “Hmm, an IP add.. oh no, a phone number in a funny format. Poser.” Sure, I can read it, JUST THE SAME, YOU CAN READ THIS ALL-CAPS TEXT. AM I YELLING? IS MY CAPS-LOCK STUCK? AM I TOO DUMB TO USE LOWER CASE?

    I suppose, if you are really that cool, using dots in your phone number adds to the coolness. But… mmmmmmmm…

    Style guides mostly agree, dots are for posers.

    The Gregg Reference Manual takes the most liberal approach. Gregg offers many possibilities, which I illustrate here with my office number:

    206-782-8410 This format is most common, according to Gregg.

    (206) 782-8410 This style is common, says Gregg, but can’t be used when the telephone number itself appears in parentheses. Also, this format makes less sense in large metropolitan areas in which the area code is required even for local numbers.

    All these are acceptable on letterhead and business cards, according to Gregg:
    206/782-8410
    206.782.8410
    206 782 8410


    Another style guide, Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications, recommends parentheses around the area code, with the parts of the local number separated by a hyphen

    Microsoft labels the all-hyphen style as incorrect and does not even mention periods or dots…

    The Associated Press Stylebook (AP) agrees with the Microsoft Manual–mostly. Like Microsoft, it rules that parentheses be used around the area code, with hyphens between the parts of a local number…

    The Chicago Manual of Style offers no rules. It states only that parentheses are sometimes used around the area code but hyphens are more common.

    The Canadian Press Stylebook uses hyphens.

    How should telephone numbers be formatted? Based on my review of these reference books, I would say hyphens are the best bet.

  9. Gan Uesli Starling says:

    Actually, this history for the onset of using dots versus dashes in telephone numbers is not wholly correct. The habit of supplanting dots in place of dashes was very largely also due to Microsoft Word being very poor at typography. To this very day Microsoft Word still lacks automated formatting to recgonize that the dash when set between numbers should NEVER wrap between lines (just as decimal numbers should not).

    There does exist a non-breaking hyphen in computer character sets. On the Mac to use a non-breaking hyphen is easy. Even on the now extinct Amiga 2000 it was easy. But when using Word it was not easy at all. And yet still today Word makes it hard.

    Thus did AMATEUR typogrophers begin to imploy the non-breaking period in place of the normally breaking hyphen. They began doing this ONLY because they knew not how to make Microsoft Word stop being stupid with a hyphen set between numbers. So instead of Microsoft fixing the error inside of Word, millions of people had to change the way they type out telephone numbers. Typical, yes?

  10. lee says:

    Gan, that’s a completely fascinating and hilarious reason! Thank you!

  11. lee says:

    I had never really considered the importance of using a non-breaking hyphen for a phone number. I see that I can make a non-breaking hyphen by typing CTRL+SHIFT+HYPHEN. Cool!

  12. Leslie says:

    Honestly, i think it looks much cleaner on business cards and other publications. I prefer it and that is my only reason for using it. When I see it used I think it looks much better, but that is just my opinion. I’m not sure why anyone would look at it and think that the user is dumb. I think that is dumb. ;)

  13. Mary D. says:

    Since I don’t want any confusion of a phone number being mistaken for an IP I’ll start writing it like this. 415*555*1212 :) Since I’m a girl I like the feminine touch. :D

  14. Malcolm says:

    Hi, you don’t know me. I was pointed here rather recently by a link in Facebook.

    As I said there, I love being told I’m both wrong and stupid by someone who’s severely underestimated my abilities.

    Did you write this in response to being embarrassed by mistaking a period-formatted telephone number for an IP address?

    That WOULD be embarrassing.

  15. lee says:

    Mary D, I like the stars!

    Malcolm, I think you missed my initial point about the similarity between “dotted” phone numbers and IP addresses.

  16. Ellen says:

    I’ve always preferred periods because it makes for a cleaner look and easier to read number and is more in keeping with a contemporary design. And as you point out, in a major metro area with 10 digit dialing the parentheses aren’t really appropriate anyway because those digits aren’t assumed. I don’t read it as someone trying to make their phone number look like an internet address, just modern. I think the blank spaces is a good look as well. To each their own, I guess.

  17. Melissa says:

    I found this in a search for someone with reason to argue a point of style at my office. There is a new format for our email signatures and they insist on the periods between the numbers, to which I have always turned up my nose! It looks terrible and is incorrect. As incorrect as putting a period after “Ms” like Ms. – which indicates that Ms is an abbreviation for something – which it is not. Unless, it’s an abbreviation for Missus but we already have one; Mrs. But I digress. Lee, I completely agree that people who write their phone numbers separated by periods look dumb! It’s not cute. I do not want to be forced to put periods into my phone number in my email signature and look like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing or I’m doing something stupid because it’s fashionable or in style right now. However, I need something more concrete in an argument against it. Do you have any references for your theory on it starting with the dot.com movement?
    Thanks!

  18. lee says:

    Hi Melissa, sorry but I can’t find any original references right now to when people started using periods in phone numbers. I remember it from personal experience.

    I think quoting style guides is a good way to start. How can anyone take a business seriously if they don’t know how to spell the Engrish?! I mentioned up above the take that a lot of manuals of style have on this subject. I think starting there is good.

    And if we could get people like Grammer Girl to say something, we’d really be on track.

  19. Gina C says:

    I don’t like the periods in phone numbers for this one reason:
    Various Apps will not recognize it as a phone number and not tell my phone I want to call that number.

  20. Annoyed byPeriods says:

    Periods = laziness. Pure and simple. You are also as Gina points out making your number a huge PITA for someone who needs to use it for data entry etc. They now have to retype it adding the dashes in between. It drives me bonkers having to fix that on a regular basis. Stop be so lazy.

    Also stop adding the parentheses as well. The 10 digit phone number is here to stay so putting (xxx) xxx-xxxx makes zero sense anymore. Just put xxx-xxx-xxxx

  21. Sudhansu Samantaray says:

    There is no need of a period between numbers because we never type it when dialing. Ya! we can separate the numbers by space only when preparing any document.

  22. Dots are Dumb says:

    Thank you @Annoyed (and @Charlotte, ROTFL!)

    The reason dots are in IP addresses are because engineers are lazy – it’s about the keypad. The reason dots are in phone numbers is because someone at AOL thought they were cool ‘cuz hey, they were internetty. Yes, AOL. Sorry @Ellen, “contemporary design” does not mean something from 1999.

    BTW, dots in dates are just plain wrong. Unless you are doing a poster for a band. Then have your day and play with your design all you want. But (my other pet peeve) good graphic (paper) design does not mean good digital (interactive) design.

  23. Dana says:

    Hi — I find it difficult to believe it was fashionable because people were so enthralled by the IP address they wanted to make their phone numbers look like IPs.

    The Microsoft Word explanation sounds more plausible, however, as I’ve been using computers since I was a kid, and have been IT though out my career and an avid artist, I think it is the clean look of it, and the fact that it is popular in some European countries. I often see friends from Europe use periods as well as friends who have spent a lot of time there. When I saw it first, it was from European friends. I saw it and thought it looked so much better than dashes, I started using it, and in no way ever even imagined some idiot might think it was an IP address, really? How many people in the US, even today, know how to properly use an IP address?

    Anyway, I find your explanation and consequent shaming of people a bit ludicrous. Maybe it is a snooty way to seem more European, I can accept that, and perhaps it shouldn’t be done since the standard US format is not periods, I can accept that, but the IP thing, sorry, just don’t buy it. I’m in IT and most non-IT people don’t have the first clue what an IP address is.

    Thanks,
    Dana

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